Grand Theft Auto V Review – Looking Back (PS4)
Last year, just as we moved past the previous generation of consoles, Rockstar Games released their highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V. A game that proved to gamers across the world that even it its twilight years, the PlayStation 3 generation still had enough prowess to drop our jaws. Now, as Rockstar Games brings out a new version of their critically acclaimed title on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, we see if it still has the same ability to captivate as before.
Second Time Around
Now, before I start talking about what new toys and features this release has, it needs to be said that a great deal of the content found on the PS4 version of GTAV is exactly the same as it was on the PS3 version. This means that as you drive around San Andreas or Los Santos, you will immediately feel right at home. The story surrounding Michael, Franklin and Trevor is as entertaining as it is completely insane, and it is still, even a year later, a great story to experience.
The voice work and dialog are still phenomenal and the scale of the world is still something that is quite impressive, but after having spent well over a 100 hours on the original launch I found it difficult to get lost in the game as I once did. This isn’t an issue with the quality of the title or this re-release, but more in that no matter how good a game can be, there is only so long you can spend in it before things get a bit repetitive. Thankfully, even though the world is pretty much the same as before, GTAV has had some visual upgrades to give players a reason to go back to their favorite spots and see what’s changed.
One of the most apparent changes to the game is that it is now running at 1080p with 30fps, and just about every texture in the game has been replaced with a higher resolution version — giving the world a much more detailed and clean look. In general this is a significant increase to the visual fidelity of GTAV, but the original main character models and animations have less noticeable differences from its original launch. Thankfully, the original launch of the game gave the characters more than enough life and detail for this to not be much of an issue, but with so many other titles handling motion in more natural ways, some of the characters can feel a bit robotic now.
Overall, most of the adjustments do give the game a nice polish, but some of the improvements are a bit more subtle. For example, this time around GTAV utilizes better aliasing software to reduce the number of “jaggys,” and draw distances for textures have improved, so that background environments look less flat. There also seems to be more pedestrians and more cars on the road, but only enough to keep locations looking populated and lived in. Sadly, even with all of these visual improvements, there still is a noticeable level of pop-in and the rare stutter from drops in frame rate.
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With its step onto the current generation of consoles, it wouldn’t be enough if those were the only ways that Rockstar Games took advantage of the new hardware. Along with a handful of new animals added to the world, each one has been given visual improvements to make its fur look softer. Both cloth and foliage now react better to the improved weather effects, such as wind blowing. Every in-game television screen or monitor now has a high resolution image, and there are three times the number of light sources than what was found in the original.
With the new light sources, one of the best visual additions that I noticed right away was the improved reflective nature of some surfaces, such as counter tops and the ocean. Simply being able to see such visual touches gave certain items a feeling texture that wasn’t there previously, making marble counter tops actually look like they were made from marble, and the water feel a bit more wet, as it reflects the city lights. While these additions are easy to miss, they add a great deal to making the world feel more real.
One of the main attractions to the GTA series in the past has always been its soundtrack, and GTAV on the PS4 definitely doesn’t disappoint. Now, of course this will be subjective, as it is completely dependent on your musical tastes, but with the inclusion of over 150 new songs, there has to be something for at least the majority of the people out there. As all of the songs are spread out between different channels, some stations will get more additions than others, but thankfully a number of the DJs have also updated their commentary to keep things feeling fresh and entertaining.
The other thing that really added to making the world of San Andreas and Los Santos more interesting a second time around, was the inclusion of a number of new cars directly from the GTA Online mode. Not only does this give players more options to drive around the city, it also has a subtle effect on reducing the feeling of repetition as you drive back and fourth across the same landscapes. Even though I had already been just about everywhere in the game, I still had to stop and pick up a new car every time it passed me — giving me, even for a moment, that feeling of discovery that the original did so wonderfully.
Up Close and Personal
When news first broke that GTAV was going to include a first-person mode, many people jumped up for joy, and while shooter fans will find some new content to pique their interests, it isn’t going to replace any of the major FPS titles out there any time soon. Simply by tapping the touchpad, you are able to cycle through the various views until you get to a first-person view, which completely changes the feeling of the game. Using a number of new animations, players are able to take aim, run, jump and climb all from the eyes of your character. For the most part this works well, but since the scale of GTAV is so massive, the more narrow view that first-person gives does make it feel like you are playing with a handicap.
Instead of wide angle from third-person that we are used to and being able to see your own character in the world, first-person mode cuts visibility significantly and makes interacting with parts of the environment more difficult. After some adjustment it is possible to get fairly good at playing with the new view, but it doesn’t feel like it is ever going to be beneficial to play that way. Thankfully, even though it may have a steep learning curve, GTAV does give players multiple targeting options, as well as the ability to pre-set controls for the different views. So being able to set up your first-person view with a standard FPS control scheme and a free aim mode, can give FPS fans can get a decent amount of mileage out of the experience with some tweaking.
One other thing to note, is that all of the vehicles now have a cockpit view, which can contain working gauges and even a radio display.
Everything is Better With Friends
Last year when the original GTAV launched, its GTA Online mode wasn’t quite ready for the release, and when it did finally launch, a number of players reported a number of issues with it. But, now that we are over a year out, and the mode has had some time to get its act together, it does feel like a much more solid experience. Besides the ability to now run with 30 characters on the same map (+2 spectators), players will have access to 11 of the major updates that came out already installed. This includes 29 vehicles, 12 weapons, 79 tattoos, 81 hairstyles, 941 articles of clothing, 24 toasts, 21 vehicle mods and 12 different apartments.
Gamers who have already spent a significant amount of time creating some mayhem online with their friends, will remember the format of being able to join a lobby with your phone or by going to markers on the map to race, compete in deathmatch or go parachuting with their friends. Sadly, having already dropped a significant amount of time memorizing the map last year, I found playing GTA Online a bit tired as well. Being able to drive around and know exactly where to find the items I was looking for took a great deal out of the experience for me, so as much as I wanted to get the feeling I used to get while exploring the city, it just wasn’t there this time.
Hanging Up My Hat
While my second time through Grand Theft Auto V might not have been as memorable as the first time, that doesn’t mean that the game has any less to offer those who haven’t had a chance to explore its crazy world, or anyone who is returning from the original release. But, it does mean that this is simply a re-release with a few new bells and whistles that may or may not grab your attention.
So, if you haven’t had a chance to play through GTAV on the PS3, stop reading this and go pick it up, as it was one of the best experiences of the last generation, and continues to be one this generation. If you’re like me and spent an exorbitant amount of time with the game already, you may find that the new content will keep you busy for a some time, but ultimately it will be a trip down memory lane more than a new lease on life.
Grand Theft Auto V on the PS4 provided by the publisher. For information on scoring please read our review policy here.